Monday, October 23, 2006

Internet Filters and Strange Bedfellows

In the legal battle against the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the government's position was to mandate filters on library computers as a way to protect children. The ALA and the ACLU argued that such filters were unconstitutional as they blocked speech protected by the first amendment, but also that the filters were ineffective to the purpose intended, letting some "inappropriate" material through. Judith Krug testified, saying: "Even the filtering manufacturers admit it is impossible to block all undesirable material." The government, of course, argued for filters.

Now, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) from 1998 is going to court. This law requires that Internet sites that carry material that may be harmful to children use some method (such as requiring a credit card number) to prevent children from accessing the material, or face criminal charges if children access their site. In this case, the ACLU is expected to argue that filters are a better way to prevent children from see the offending material (having evolved since CIPA days), and the government will argue that filters are ineffective because a fair amount of pornography slips through them.

*sigh* It's the absurdity of it all that gets to me. That and my paranoid fear that it's all a plot to engage our limited resources while our rights erode on so many fronts.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Bruce Ennis argued for the American Library Association before the Supreme Court that filters were a less restrictive alternative to muzzling the speaker in the Communications Decence Act case. The ACLU/ALA won that case in 1997 - and it's really the same argument in the COPA case. Filters installed by folks who don't want to receive smut IS a better, less restrictive alternative to stopping speakers from speaking.

The problem with filters, besides the over/underblocking inherent when using technology to block imprecise speech/pictures, is that they inevitably get used by the government. When private parents use them, it's not a government restriction, but rather another alternative for users to choose.

YES a giant waste of everyone's dollars to litigate this stuff, but both sides feel passionately about the issues of free speech and protecting children from porn.

- Mary M.

Anonymous said...

Filters will be inherently political, manipulated the way newspapers are, to stifle valid information that commercial interests consider controversial enough to risk losing money. I read that at least one filter company included the word "homosexual" among its index of blocked terms, and I can envision political pressure to make that the norm.
Monitoring Internet safety is a human job, and best left to the librarians, who should be willing to disallow pornography on public computers, if they want to mute hysteria and truly protect free speech.